A New Year

I love the start of a New Year.  I love it in the same way I love a new notebook filled with blank sheets of paper, or a clean kitchen table free of clutter, or making my bed with crisp, freshly laundered sheets.  A New Year is a fresh start, a blank page, a chance to begin again fresh, free from the mess and complications of the past.

Of course, most of that is totally arbitrary.  The problems and pain of 2017 don’t magically disappear when the clock strikes midnight on Dec 31 [as much as we all might wish they did].  There is a sense, though, of that hope and sense of freedom – that clean, crisp fresh sheets, blank page, new start feeling.

I love the New Year, but I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions.  I’m too hard on myself as it is, so the idea of creating a laundry list of aspirational goals I know I’ll never live up to [Exercise every day!  Stick to a budget!  Eat only organic, kale-based foods!] stresses me out.  A few years ago though I heard about the idea of setting New Years “intentions” rather than resolutions. The idea is to pick a few words or a phrase that describe how you want the year ahead to look and feel, and build plans or goals around that.

If New Year’s resolutions are about the head, New Year’s intentions are about the heart.  Now that’s a practice I can get behind.

So I’ve been thinking about what I want my intentions to be for 2018 – what vision I have for the year ahead, what matters deeply to me that I want to see come front and center in my life over the next year.

As I reflected, three words bubbled to the surface almost immediately: Learn, Love and Risk.

Learn: I started a new job a few months ago, and it has been full of learning – which has reminded me how much I love to learn.  Beyond work, I want to approach all of my life as a learning experience.  When I make a mistake or a decision I regret I want to view it not as failure, but as an opportunity to learn – about myself, about others, and just about life.  Reframing mistakes or failure as “learning experiences” is hugely helpful to me.  It helps me replace feelings of regret for making a mistake with feelings of gratitude for having the experience – and that is a game-changer.

Love:   Years ago I was inspired by a sermon about creating a “life mission statement” – mine is shamelessly cribbed from Luke 10 and it’s just this: “Love God, Love People”  It’s that simple  – and that hard.  When I think about loving people well in 2018, I want to do two things: I want to be intentional about loving the people who are already in my life and I want to be intentional about enlarging the circle of people I have the opportunity to love.  For me that means volunteering at City Hope, and loving people with tangible acts of service, a warm smile and a reminder that they are not alone.  It also means being intentional about how I spend my time, and choosing to prioritize people and relationships over tasks and to-do lists.  This one is really hard for me – I get so caught up in wanting to be productive that I forget to slow down, and take the time to connect with the amazing people I am lucky enough to have in my life.  I may be the only person who is setting a goal to be less productive in the New Year – but I know that the riches of life are found in connecting deeply, with the people I love, not in checking tasks off my to-do list.

Risk: I am incredibly risk-averse.  It’s served me well in that I’m very unlikely to end up in the ER or the local jail – it hasn’t served me well in that I know I’ve missed out on what could have been some breathtaking life experiences because I was too afraid to go outside my comfort zone.  To be clear, I have no intention to start skydiving every day in 2018 but I do want to take some risks that are in line with my goals for my life, that get me closer to how I want my life to look and the things I value.  I want to take the risk of voicing my opinion when my instinct is to stay quiet and keep the peace.  To say yes to conversations I would normally avoid and stay open to where they may lead.  To be open to breaking some rules – most of which I’ve imposed on myself – to see what possibilities open up as a result.  Most of all, I want to keep at the forefront of my mind that life is short and precious, and that saying about only regretting the chances you didn’t take is a cliche for a reason – it’s true.

The other reason I love the New Year is it forces me to be reflective, and to acknowledge that this life we’ve all been given is short and precious.  The cliche that time passes more quickly with age is true – this year has flown by and I don’t except time to slow down at all in 2018.

Given that, I want to take the the time now to set these intentions, so as I’m faced with decisions in 2018 I can evaluate them by asking if they are in line with my values – are they getting me closer to a life of learning, love and [healthy, non-skydiving] risk?

As 2017 draws to a close, I’m  reflecting on all that has happened this year, to me personally and in the world at large. I’m grieving all of the pain this year has brought  – and there has been plenty of it.  I’m also full of gratitude for all the blessings this year has brought, and I’m looking forward with a spirit of hope and joyful expectation to all that 2018 will bring.

Happy New Year, indeed.